The Allen family had just returned to their hotel room in Mumbai, India, when they heard what sounded like the fireworks of a local wedding celebration. Minutes later the sounds were closer, and a series of grenade explosions and screams clued them in to the horrific events unfolding around them. The Florida family would spend the next 48 hours hiding under their bed in the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel, texting friends and embassy workers as they listened to the terrifying screams of people being yanked from their rooms and shot to death. Although the couple prayed fervently for a rescue, they knew God's will could be otherwise and placed a relative's phone number inside their younger son's pocket in case the couple didn't survive. "When my youngest said he didn't want to go to my funeral and my oldest said we live together and we want to die together, it really, really hit home that this was no joke and the potential was there that we'd be going out in body bags," Maxine Allen said.
The 105-year-old hotel was one of 10 sites attacked during the 60-hour massacre that left at least 163 people dead-including six Americans-and 239 injured. Dozens of people never made it out of the Taj Mahal Hotel alive. But Luis and Maxine Allen and their two sons-13-year-old Brandon and 10-year-old Jonathan-were spared. When they first realized there were gunshots down the hall on the night of Wednesday, Nov. 26, they phoned the front desk. The woman who answered was unaware of an attack, but said she would look into it and call them back. She never did.
Minutes later, they heard a bloodcurdling scream. "You heard them banging on doors down the hallway. Then this man shouted, 'No, no, no!' and that was followed by blasts of rapid fire. We realized they were pulling people out of their rooms and killing them, and that's exactly what we learned later in reports," Allen said, adding that she can still close her eyes and hear that woman's terrified scream.
While many American families gathered to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, the Allens spent most of the next 48 hours under their room's king-size bed with their two boys sandwiched between them. Gunshots and grenades resonated throughout the hotel, shaking the floor of their second-story room, and drifting smoke threatened to drive them out of hiding. Allen thanked God that her boys weren't alone in the room as they had been just hours before the attack when the couple was out taking pictures of the hotel.
The couple used their iPhone to text embassy workers, friends, and their pastor about their situation and location. They quietly emerged from under the bed only a few times to briefly stretch and grab something to eat from the hotel's mini-bar. Miraculously, both boys slept through the first night and much of Thursday, missing the most intense moments of the attack. On Friday, the Mumbai chief of police contacted the family on their phone with news of a planned rescue. When Indian commandos knocked on their door that evening and said the code word, "shiva," the family grabbed a few small bags and left the room. "That's when you realize how little you need in life," Allen noted.
The scene that unfolded before their eyes was even more devastating than they had anticipated. Every door in their hallway had been knocked down with the exception of the two doors leading to their rooms-a sure sign of God's divine protection, Allen said. As they made their way out of the hotel, they had to freeze at every corner so security forces could scan the next corridor for any signs of remaining terrorists. Allen's husband had to remove his squeaky shoes during their escape, and when he examined his socks after the rescue, he realized they had been walking in pools of blood during their exit. The remaining terrorist was killed the following morning.
The Allens flew out of Mumbai just hours after their rescue and arrived home in Maitland, Fla., late Saturday night, Nov. 29. Luis, a psychiatrist, and Maxine, a realtor, have since returned to work, and Brandon and Jonathan returned to their eighth- and fifth-grade classes at Orangewood Christian School the following Monday. And yet life is anything but routine for this grateful family. Maxine says she's never been so happy to sit in the school carpool line. "I feel that if you've been spared-if you've been brought back literally from the edge-that you have to look up and give yourself as a living sacrifice to the Lord and find out what is it He wants for you," Allen said.
At least 10 gunmen, who received high-level training at a terrorist camp in Pakistan, carried out the attacks in Mumbai, once known as Bombay, the financial capital of India and the second most populous city in the world. With AK-47s the gunmen fanned out from the city's waterfront in what at first looked like a random shooting spree, targeting Westerners and lasting 60 hours. At one Jewish center the gunmen killed six Jews. Indian commandoes eventually killed nine of the assailants and captured one alive, Ajmal Amir Kasab. Under interrogation Kasab said a group of about 24 underwent training for the mission in Pakistan, which included recitation of the Quran and lectures on jihad. Blood tests revealed that the men used steroids to improve strength and relied on cocaine and other stimulants to remain alert without eating throughout the prolonged attacks. India's government, criticized for its delayed response to the attacks, may strike against Pakistan, which is already under pressure from the United States to rein in its radical Islamist groups.
(Editor's Note: This article has been corrected to reflect that since press time government officials in India have revised the death toll to 163.)